JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Playtime: 1943

Playtime: 1943

October 1943. Washington, D.C. "Boys watching the Woodrow Wilson high school cadets." Photo by Esther Bubley, Office of War Information. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Bubley whimsy

Don't you think the photographer was intentionally having fun messing with the viewer's perspective to create that illusion? I do.

My Generation

Interesting photo... posted no doubt for its shock value.

As a member of that generation, I played cowboys, space explorer, knight, soldier, etc. All the boys did (well, except for the odd ones who played with dolls ;-) Know what? We never once confused play with real life. Of course, physical violence wasn't graphic back then, nor was it performed with mind-numbing repetition, as in the slash movies or video games, for example. We also didn't take drugs or do a lot of other things kids do today.

Was it a better time to grow up? Damn straight it was.

Neither demons nor angels

The kids in the pictured generation weren't horrible animals because they played with guns, but come on, let's not pretend they were perfect and everything was wonderful back then and everyone today is inferior.

For example, look at the trash scattered on the parade ground.

Just some thoughts on OTY's comment...

>> Sorry to be preachy but I really fear that society is "de-evolving" and returning to savagery and barbaric behavior.

Hey now OTY, the kids are OK. I don't know if you'll read this comment but I had to weigh in. As one of the early Millennials (aka Cold-Y or Boomerang Generation) let me reassure you. My parents were in the Silent Generation. I walked to school and used a sharp compass. Additionally, I knew my neighbors and was allowed to bike all over the town. Now I live in an urban center where I still walk to work. I still know my neighbors and make casseroles when people find themselves in a tough spot. The Millennials also manage to have fun even though the recession is weighing heavily on us. The Boomers won't retire and Millennials can't find work. We also give back to our community, are hard-working, and increasingly thrifty having learned from our grandparents the importance of putting away for a rainy day.

Taking your anecdotal example, I know hundreds of Millennials who, to a person, are not "bad apples." Even though the kids born today can seem alien, ("O rly? LOL, que! Srsly, wtf is w/n00bs. We pwnd them. 1337.") The Atlantic recently suggested otherwise. I tend to agree. You raised us right, stop worrying, we'll take our place and save the world when you let us. And our kids and grandkids will be awesome too.


The kids are alright.

Target practice

Whenever I see a scene of soldiers practicing their marching in formation, I wonder "how many battles ever got won because they were good at marching in formation?"

Has there ever been an enemy overcome by straight lines and precision steps?

In movies, the guys in formation are always the ones getting mowed down by cannons or snipers.

I'm reminded of a comment by one of the Kaiser's generals complaining that he seemed to think marching practice was all there was to war preparation.

Re: You people are S-L-O-W

I really hate to appear to be S-L-O-W, but what is the significance of the quarter?

[It's a gift bestowed upon especially clueless commenters. So that they can go get a clue. - Dave]

Cap guns

My parents were non-militaristic types; my father (reluctantly) got involved in WW2 as a RAF pilot, but his Quaker father had been jailed as a conchie in WW1 and he was never keen on guns. Nonetheless, we kids were cheerfully allowed to have and play with toy guns in the 60s - mostly games based on High Chaparral and Lost in Space and suchlike rather than war and soldiering, as it happens (well, there was The Rat Patrol). And pointing a toy gun at my brother (see pic, if it uploads OK) didn't seem to cause anyone to get worried (neither of us has ever had anything to do with real guns).

Some British schools have cadet forces, as per the film If... and also the Doctor Who story set in 1913 (Human Nature).

You people are S-L-O-W

He is not pointing the cap gun at the other child's head. The other child is standing behind him. Look where the feet of the children are. Come on now, think for yourselves.

[Talk about slow -- read the other comments. Carefully. - Dave]

Is it really that different?

When I was a kid, toy guns were my favorite. And yet my Dad would have tanned my hide had he caught me actually pointing a toy gun at another person. I was taught you just didn't point guns at people.

And I realize that the kid in this photo is not pointing his gun at the other boy.

But my kids grew up in a society where it was completely proper to point guns at other people and pull the trigger -- but they called it laser tag or paintball. You can also get into the whole video game mindset as well. Of course, you can't do it on your own, but at an arcade, or in the case of paint-balls, with expensive gear.

The difference I see is that by the time I was 12 or so, such games were not so interesting. The current generation is still involved in these games into their 20s and 30s.

Reminds me of my childhood

Despite my mom's anti-toy gun stance (peace, love, against the Vietnam war, etc.), my brother and I had an arsenal of cap guns as kids. We blasted away whenever she was not around. Despite all this simulated childhood violence, we both grew up to be fairly normal adults who do not own any real guns.

Cocktail Hour

Personally, I prefer my Bubbly with a dash of Alibet.

Esther Bubbly Fans

For those of us that are fans of Esther Bubbly and all the other wonderful photographers being shown on Shorpy, you can find many other photographs at the National Archives. Alibet, these photographs have not been edited as those shown here, they are still outstanding. The URL below will take you to an index of photographers. Don't overlook the 'Search' link also on the page. A wonderful place to visit.

[Nothing like a little Bubbly to start the day, I say. - Dave]

Saturday Morning Special

Even before the war, this was the Junior G-Man generation. The pistol packing boy might be aiming a realistic cast metal cap pistol, not all of which looked like western six-guns. Here's a 1940s magazine ad for a similar toy pistol, the popular "G-Boy" model.

Grateful for the opportunity

Despite years of studying (and producing) photography and film, I only learned of Esther Bubley after I became a regular visitor to Shorpy (perhaps Shorpy addict is more accurate). I'm a big fan of historic, journalistic, and modern photography -- even worked in an archive -- but I didn't know of Esther Bubley, and I think her work is wonderful. Her work fascinates me -- composition, subjects, content, emotional impact -- I thank you for posting her photos.

The Way I See It

The kid with the gun is aiming at some "enemy" in the distance. The smaller kid is imitating the drill team members.

I hate guns now, but I played "Army" and cowboys and Indians with them all the time during the early 50's. Once, after watching Gene Autry on TV, I conked a kid over the head with a piece of wood and was amazed when he didn't fall over unconscious. Shortly thereafter I was amazed when I couldn't watch TV for a week.


Well, that gave me chills.

Boys and guns

Let's see. I grew up watching Gunsmoke and the Lone Ranger. Parents bought me a Daisy Red Ryder for my birthday. Played Cowboys and Indians and S.W.A.T. was never called. Grew up to be a productive law abiding citizen despite the "evil" toys. Imagine that.

Reply to "In Defense of..."

I believe you failed to comprehend my message because I NEVER said anything about being "better than..." or "working harder" or "loving more". My point was only to state that playing with guns, knives and potentially deadly weapons did not make us violent misfits as some people claim it does. Why would I offend my own children and descendants by claiming "we were better" but I believe that is your personal interpretation of what was written, NOT what was actually written. I am very sorry if anyone was offended.

Re: Boys learning 2nd Amendment rights

And yet we've got people from all over the world that still strive to become American now don't we?

Small Arms

The gun is a toy .45 caliber semi-automatic. You can tell because it not only lacks the hammer and sight, but a real .45 is over 6 inches long. The one in the picture looks much smaller. And a real .45 very heavy. My Dad taught me to shoot a .45 when I was about ten years old and it took both hands to hold it up straight!

Cap gun

I had a hand-me-down cap gun in the 60s that was a baby .45. Wasn't as cool as the cowboy guns, so I am sure than it ended up in the bottom of a toy box and was "recycled" at a garage sale.

In defense of my generation...

I think it's a bit extreme to say that "the silent generation" was composed of better or more decent people than gens x, y, whatever, or that people in the past loved their families more, worked harder, or were better Americans than my peers and I. Actually, it's straight up offensive. A lot of criminals were born in the 30's and 40's, too. As were a lot of rude people, some of whom now apparently consider themselves "POLITE, simple, proper seniors." This is a really neat picture, though. I love the kid leaning on the monkey bars.


Yeah, this might be disturbing to some people, but let's not forget the international context at the time. 1943 saw the height of World War II, and all the kids were immerese in the ambience of a "nation at war": bombarded with all those news reels in the movies, watching the cartels, and seeing mom worry about the absent parent / brother / uncle who was serving overseas. Many a kid witnessed the arrival of the dreaded letter to his / her parents; "Dear Mrs... I am terribly sorry to inform you..."

So, with old photos as with history, one can't merely judge them by comparing them with our own prejudices and standars. We must take in account the circumstances and the particular period where they were created. I'm sure that, back then, a scene like this was not as disturbing as we might find it today. Guess it is what OTY said, that children were accountable for being good citizens at all times.

Cap Gun

The pistol the boy appears to be holding resembles a 1940 Kilgore Cap pistol, made of iron. Likely it was one of the police or police chief versions.

Johnny Has His Gun

Heh, funny, Exercising his 2nd Amendment.

Can anyone tell if that's a real pistol or just an extremely realistic toy? It sure looks heavy and solid from here. I have a cap pistol from the '40s or '50s, and it's nowhere nearly as detailed as that (although it's a revolver, not an automatic).

Boys learning 2nd Amendment rights

This photo could only come out of the USA. The only country on the planet that enshrines guns in their national Constitution.

Soccer '43??

I doubt that there were any soccer goals at WWHS in '43, I think those are monkey bars.

Cadet Rifles

High Schools still have rifle teams today, if they have JROTC unit.
Official Site


- Proud Former JROTC Cadet, who shouldered his own (demilitarized) M1903 Springfield for drill... 15 count manual.. Arms!

High School Cadet Team

Don't you know there's a war on? In 1943 there was and most of the boys in that group would be in it soon after they graduated from high school. A little early drill couldn't hurt, even if they did have to unlearn just about everything they picked up here.


In response to the "High School Cadet Team" comment: Ever heard of ROTC? I went to a college in the South (graduated 2003) and it was common to see ROTC members performing drills in the quad.

Armchair Psychologist's Field Day

To call this photo provocative is an understatement. The curious fact though is that this generation, currently referred to as "the silent generation" seems to have been the most peaceful, law-abiding, responsible, conscientious, peaceful and congenial group of decent and agreeable adults in recent memory. Yes, I am one. Yes, as kids we all had toy guns and we played "jack-knife" wherein we threw our pocket knives into targets drawn in the dirt. Yes, we used dagger-sharp geometric compasses in grade school without hurting anyone, and walked miles to school, often alone. Yes, we were just before the "Rebels without a cause" gangs, loved our families, enjoyed our cars, had fun dates, served our country, sewed our wild oats and then settled down to work hard, support loved ones and try to raise healthy, happy families. I do not have crime statistics to back this up, but from personal experience all the "playing" we did for the first 15 years of our lives with potential toy weapons did NOT make us violent or eager to hurt anyone. On the contrary, we are a bunch of very helpful, charitable, POLITE, simple, proper seniors now who walk at the mall daily in friendly groups and still love America. The preceding is strictly my personal opinion but I know hundreds of us from this era and there is not a bad apple in the bunch. Although this picture is reminiscent of the horrible famous photo from Viet Nam, I have no acquaintances who became violent criminals from playing with TOY guns. The difference is, I believe, that we had sensible,selfless, caring and sometimes strict parents and we ALWAYS had to be accountable for not behaving as the civilized people they expected us to be. Sorry to be preachy but I really fear that society is "de-evolving" and returning to savagery and barbaric behavior. The little guy in the chin strap hat who is resignedly acceptiing his fate like a man looks exactly like a neighbor I grew up with who became a soldier.

Nothing much changes here

I live several blocks away from Wilson HS, and aside from the fact that they obviously no longer drill there in military uniforms, there is the occasional gunplay every so often. It seems that about every three years there is a shootout ... and this is the public HS in the city's safest and most affluent area!

Notable alums of Wilson HS include Warren Buffett, Frank Rich, and Lewis Black.

Not what it seems

At first glance it looks like the boy in the middle is pointing that gun straight at the forehead of the other boy - but he's not, is he? He's nearer the camera by a yard or so, and pointing directly to the right.

Whatever, great photo.

Imagine this scene today

The boy pointing (what I assume is a) toy gun would be under arrest facing years of psychoanalysis. The parents of his "target" would already be on the telephone to their attorney looking to sue the boy as well as Woodrow Wilson HS, its principal and head of its cadet program not to mention the young man leaning on the soccer post for not intervening in what clearly is an act of bullying. The school spokesperson, since he hadn't seen the paperwork, would not be able to comment other than to reiterate that WWHS has a zero tolerance policy toward weaponry and that, once the truth comes out, they will be completely exonerated.


There's an unfortunate juxtaposition.

As Jack Nicholson Would Say...

Hey, kid? You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Deja Nam

Reminds me of the famous Vietnam era photo of an execution.


There are a couple of interesting things in this photograph...

Most obviously, it looks like the little boy on the left is aiming the gun at the other boy's head...but once you really look at it, the boy on the right is a few feet further away. (WHEW!) His stance though, makes it look like they are playing a very creepy "game".

The other interesting thing is...High School Cadet Team?? Forming up and shouldering rifles??? Can you even imagine that in 2009? Ah, the good ol' days...

That is really disturbing

It looks too much like that very famous Vietnam-era photo of a man being executed on the street.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2023 Shorpy Inc.